'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

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'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sat Dec 09, 2017 3:24 pm

I’ve now read the whole of the Clark book: ‘Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning’. I’d be interested in any comments from others who have read it. See also the thread headed ‘Recent blog-post by Greg Brooks’.

Nick Gibb is repeatedly criticised in the book for his enthusiasm for synthetic phonics (s.p.) and the Phonics Screening Check (PSC).

5 of the 7 authors cite the 2006 Torgerson, Brooks and Hall review and all 5 accept its conclusion that there is no definitive evidence showing that s.p. is more effective than analytic phonics. This suggests that these authors, who set store by ‘reading the evidence’, are nevertheless unaware of Johnston and Watson’s 2014 and 2016 critiques of the Torgerson et al. analysis or have chosen to ignore them. See Johnston R.S. and Watson, J. (2016) The trials and tribulations of changing how reading is taught in schools: Synthetic phonics and the educational backlash. In K Durkin, HR Schaffer (Eds) The Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychology in Practice: Implementation and Impact, pp 203-221, and Johnston, R. and Watson, J. (2014) Teaching Synthetic Phonics, 2nd edition. Sage (Learning Matters).

The relationship between s.p. and comprehension is mentioned over 20 times in the book – some authors say that there is a lack of evidence that s.p. has an impact on comprehension, while others assume that it has no impact or even a negative impact. The book actually ends with the negative-impact type of assumption. The chapter is by Henrietta Dombey, and the final two paragraphs are as follows:

‘Our political masters care about the test scores of our ten-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds on PIRLS and PISA, those crucial international tests of semantic and pragmatic competence. However, they seem to believe that to improve these scores, all that is needed is that the five and six-year-olds learn fidelity to the letters on the page (at least to those in words with regular spellings). The development of England's children as text critics seems entirely outside governmental concern.

We are enduring a policy that is deeply counter-productive. However, when this becomes evident, when our scores on the international league tables continue to languish, it will probably be teachers rather than the policy that will be held responsible. We should not let this happen. The challenge for the future is to bring these issues into the open: to make our masters aware of the need for instruments to assess children and the teaching of reading to reflect a more informed view of what reading is and of the approaches to the teaching of reading that have been shown to work in real classrooms, in England, and elsewhere in the world.'

Dombey says that PIRLS is one of the ‘crucial international tests of semantic and pragmatic competence’, so she must regard it as a good test. Well, the 2016 PIRLS results show that children in England who did the PSC in 2012 are languishing rather less in the PIRLS international league table than children in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, where teaching is closer to the type favoured by the contributors to this book. Let’s hope that those contributors have been ‘reading the [PIRLS] evidence’ and having some second thoughts about what really constitutes a ‘more informed view of what reading is’.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by James Curran » Sun Dec 10, 2017 11:03 am

Well said Jenny. It's hard to ignore the International evidence but then some see only what they want to see.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:43 pm

Re. people seeing only what they want to see: one of the things that has always irritated me about those who favour mixed methods or a whole language type of approach is that they predict that an early synthetic phonics approach will have a negative impact on children’s comprehension, enjoyment of reading etc. but don’t then take steps to check whether the predictions come true.

Perhaps the timing of the ‘Reading the Evidence’ book in relation to the publication of the PIRLS results will mean that these people finally have to face up to the need to make the checks they haven’t been making. This is particularly true in the light of the last two paragraphs of the Dombey chapter, quoted in my first post in this thread. Those are also the last two paragraphs in the whole book (apart from appendices) and are therefore probably intended as a crucial take-home thought.

Dombey leaves us in no doubt that she regards PIRLS as testing the kind of thing she favours and that she expected the next lot of results (not yet announced at the time she was writing) to show England performing poorly. In fact, they showed England’s performance to be its best ever, so her prediction did not come true. The results didn’t surprise those of us who believe in the importance of early systematic s.p., however: we know that if accurate word-reading skills are secured early, that means that children can move on early to the kind of wider reading that fosters good comprehension and enjoyment of reading.

Incidentally, some people have noted that England’s results in the very first round of PIRLS testing (2001) seemed remarkably good, though not as good as the 2016 results. Apparently, however, there were problems with the sampling in 2001, and less able readers were under-represented. This was pointed out in a 2006 article by Hilton which I’m still trying to access, but also in a 2007 article by Tymms and Merrell, which states that 'the most damning revelation was that England excluded a wider group of children with special needs than other countries’. (See p. 15 of .http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/E ... ertime.pdf)

Jenny C.
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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:44 pm

Jenny - thank you for reviewing Clark's book. Your review is invaluable. I have shared it via the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction and via various networks and Twitter.

http://www.iferi.org/iferi_forum/viewto ... 1772#p1772

You'll note that I've also added a link to the thread at IFERI leading to blogger Andrew Old's forensic analysis of the 'phonics denialists' - a role he has taken upon himself (thank goodness) for several years.

See here:
'Don't let phonics denialists move the goal posts after PIRLS 2016'
http://www.iferi.org/iferi_forum/viewto ... ?f=2&t=934

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:35 pm

Thanks, Debbie. What I've written doesn't really amount to a 'review' - all I've done is to pick out some points which strike me as particularly crucial for us at the present time.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Dec 10, 2017 7:47 pm

Yes, it is crucial to highlight the errors in the book even if not a full review.

No doubt there will be more to add over time.

Most appreciated.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:44 pm

I hope many people will read the book themselves and not just take my word for what it says.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sun Dec 17, 2017 10:26 pm

As I've said, what I've written her about this book doesn't really amount to a review. I've been googling to see if I can find reviews, but have had little success. I found this, however, in connection with a book launch organised by the Australian Literacy Educators' Association (ALEA):

'ALEA Perth and Curtin University invite you to the WA launch of Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning, edited by Margaret M Clark.

Prior to the publication of the book, Margaret wrote in the Education Journal, October 2017,

"Australia is in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the research that has been conducted since the implementation of the Phonics Screening Check and mandatory synthetic phonics teaching in England. The lesson is clear. The Check, and synthetic phonics approaches are unable to deliver what was hoped. Australia should look elsewhere for answers to its literacy challenges."'


What about the 2016 PIRLS results? We may not be able to say definitely that synthetic phonics and the PSC have caused England's improvement, but there has been an improvement, and this is the reverse of what Clark and Co. seem to have expected.

Jenny C.
'
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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Thu Dec 28, 2017 11:55 am

I’ve now noticed something else in Dombey’s chapter in the ‘Reading the Evidence’ book: she misrepresents an article by Cunningham and Stanovich (American Educator, Spring/Summer 1998) by citing it as support for her statement that ‘Children who do not feel interested or involved, who respond in a perfunctory way to their lessons get less from them than children who participate eagerly and actively’ (p. 119).

The reality is that Cunningham and Stanovich don’t talk about children participating eagerly and actively in their lessons: their main point is the familiar ‘Matthew effect’ one – children who read a lot get richer in vocabulary, general knowledge and cognitive ability, whereas those who read very little get poorer. The authors stress from the outset, however, that the difference starts to show very early, as ‘poor readers, who experience greater difficulty in breaking the spelling-to-sound code, begin to be exposed to much less text than their more skilled peers’. Dombey makes no mention of this, and in fact argues that a strong early emphasis on decoding is not the best way of producing children who go on to read a lot and comprehend well.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by SLloyd » Thu Dec 28, 2017 5:41 pm

Thank you, Debbie, for pointing out Andrew Old's forensic analysis of the 'phonics denialists'. It says it all. We should be celebrating the PIRLS results, especially at the marked improvement for the 20% who struggle with learning to read.

Common sense tells us that when children are fluent at reading, and at decoding words that they have not met before, then they will be better at reading and comprehension. The PSC encourages teachers to improve the children's decoding skills. Therefore it is more than likely that this caused the improvement in the PIRLS results, particularly at the bottom end.

Nearly always the children who are poor at reading cannot read the words easily and accurately. That is a decoding problem. It would help if the 'phonics denialists' directed their energy into finding out for themselves why systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) is fun to teach and is essential for improving the decoding skills. They would be well advised to go to the schools visited by Ofsted, as reported in 'Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools', and see SSP in action and how this leads to reading for pleasure. In the meantime, it would be good to hear them being positive about the improvement in the PIRLS results and acknowledging that their predictions were wrong.

Sue

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Wed Jan 03, 2018 9:17 pm

Thanks, Sue, for your comments.

Below is a link to a thread via that International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction featuring Ofsted's 'Bold Beginnings' report. I have included responses to the report - both positive and negative!

I am sure that the author/s of the report knew full well there would be a backlash from a number of early years personnel and organisations - no surprises there! It seems to me, however, that the report is very sensible and practical and very much 'fair enough':

http://www.iferi.org/iferi_forum/viewto ... ?f=3&t=921

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Sat Jan 20, 2018 12:46 pm

In my first post in this thread, I mentioned Johnston and Watson’s critiques of the 2006 Torgerson, Brooks and Hall review (‘A systematic review of the research literature on the use of phonics in the teaching of reading and spelling’). The review itself is available on line, but the Johnston and Watson critiques are harder to access, so I thought I should say a bit more about this, especially in view of he way that the Torgerson review is cited in the Clark book and elsewhere to support opposition to the Phonic Screening Check and the adoption of synthetic phonics as official policy.

Something I wrote in this RRF forum four years ago contains a relevant quotation from a published paper by Johnston et al. Note, in advance, that there are two researchers with very similar names – TorgersOn and TorgesEn. TorgersOn is the lead author of the review mentioned above, whereas TorgesEn is the lead author of the 1999 study which was one of the three on synthetic phonics vs. analytic phonics from which TorgersOn et al. analysed data:
On 8 January 2014, I wrote:It’s also worth noting comments by Johnston, McGeown and Watson on the other two s.p. vs. a.p. studies included in the Torgerson et al. review:

Johnston et al. wrote: 'However, a meta-analysis, funded by England’s Department for Education and Skills (DfES), claimed that there was no clear outcome as to whether synthetic or analytic phonics was the most effective method (Torgerson, Brooks, & Hall, 2006), which may seem surprising in the context of the research by Torgesen et al. (1999) and Johnston and Watson (2004). There are various reasons for this null result. One of the three studies included in the meta-analysis was an unpublished study of kindergarten children, where the children were inappropriately trained on complex vowels, such as tape and rode (Skailand, 1971); these sorts of words are not suitable for early sounding and blending. An advantage was found for the analytic phonics group on the trained items, but not on the untrained words. However, the data on the reading of the trained words were used in the meta-analysis, whereas the National Reading Panel only analysed examined performance on untrained items. Torgesen et al.’s (1999) study was also included. This showed in the long term that the synthetic phonic method was more effective than embedded phonics but Torgerson et al. (2006) used data from a few months into this two and a half year study, when the embedded phonics group was briefly ahead in reading. This was because the synthetic phonics group was mostly learning phoneme awareness at this stage rather than phonics. The third study included was Johnston and Watson’s (2004) Experiment 2, and this also showed that synthetic phonics teaching led to much better reading skills than the analytic phonics method. (Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 25, 2012).'
The Johnston et al. criticisms should surely be taken seriously, but I haven’t seen them mentioned at all by any of the people who think that the TorgersOn et al. review justifies them in opposing the PSC and the adoption of s.p. as official policy in England - people such as the contributors to the Clark book and Andrew Davis. Are they unaware of the criticisms, or have they chosen to ignore them?

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Mon Mar 26, 2018 7:05 pm

This thread has apparently been at least partly responsible for the appearance of another book edited by Margaret Clark. In Chapter 1 she writes that ‘A negative tone is now appearing in a few reviews in England and being widely circulated on the Reading Reform Foundation Discussion Forum stimulated by a review by Jennifer Chew...’. The new book is Teaching Initial Literacy: Policies, Evidence and Ideology, and it’s available only in a Kindle edition. I’ve paid my money and got it, as I also did with the first book. I recommended (10 December 2017) that people should read the first book themselves and not just take my word for what it says. The same applies to this second book.

In her list of references in Chapter 1, Margaret Clark gives the heading of this thread as ‘A review of Reading the Evidence’, but my heading does not actually include the word ‘review’. Debbie referred to what I had written as a ‘review’, but twice after that I said that it wasn’t really a review – on 10 December 2017 I wrote ‘all I’ve done is to pick out some points which strike me as particularly crucial for us at the present time’. I’ll do something similar with the new book, so will focus just on a few sample points in the first two chapters.

In Chapter 1, Clark writes this: ‘The authors of Reading the Evidence are also criticised by Chew for frequent reference to a Torgerson et al article of 2006, which it is claimed has been criticised by others subsequently. In this sequel we refer to an updated research report by Torgerson et al published in 2018 (see Glazzard and Krashen here)' Point 1: the 2018 ‘updated research report’ is not actually mentioned by either Glazzard or Krashen – it is mentioned in an editorial note by Clark at the end of Glazzard’s chapter, but with no information about its contents. Point 2: Clark implies that I ‘criticised’ much more generally than was the case – what I said was that 5 out of 7 authors referred to a specific finding in the 2006 Torgerson et al. review but were apparently unaware that this finding had been challenged (see next paragraph for more on this). Point 3: the 2018 Torgerson et al. tertiary review actually contains nothing relevant to the particular point I was making about the 2014 and 2016 Johnston and Watson critiques, so it's hard to see why Clark mentions it in that context.

Clark writes that ‘On the [RRF} Forum we are referred to as "among the phonics denialists". Jennifer Chew, it should be noted, advised the government in the development of the screening check (see Clark, 2016: 149).’ I’m not sure whether the juxtaposition of those two sentences is intended to imply that I myself have used the phrase ‘phonics denialists’ – I haven’t. Yes, I was one of four ‘phonics experts’ consulted about the development of the Phonics Screening Check. I had previously taught English at A Level, which is all about comprehension, but by the time I was consulted about the PSC I had been hearing children’s reading in primary schools on a voluntary basis for 10 years, so had seen the early decoding/comprehension issues at first hand. I did feel that more early emphasis on decoding would help, and what I saw in my continuing voluntary work after the PSC was introduced made me feel that it had helped.

Chapter 2, by Prof. Jonathan Glazzard, is headed ‘A reply to the criticisms’. He quotes the following from my first post in this thread: '5 of the 7 authors cite the 2006 Torgerson, Brooks and Hall review and all 5 accept its conclusion that there is no definitive evidence showing that [synthetic phonics] is more effective than analytic phonics. This suggests that these authors, who set store by "reading the evidence", are nevertheless unaware of Johnston and Watson’s 2014 and 2016 critiques of the Torgerson et al. analysis or have chosen to ignore them.' My next sentence (see first post above) contained details allowing people to check what Johnston and Watson had actually said, but Glazzard doesn’t include that sentence; instead he refers to the 2005 Clackmannanshire study and some criticisms of that study which are irrelevant to the question of whether those five authors (or, now, Glazzard or Clark) have read the Johnston and Watson critiques, let alone the question of whether they have good answers for them.

Glazzard’s mention of the 2005 Clackmannanshire study leads me to refer to https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... f=1&t=6411, and particularly to the section starting ‘Rewind to 2005’. We are still debating issues that could have been settled back then but were not settled. I regretted that at the time, as I thought that we really needed that study. If it had turned out that synthetic phonics was not the best approach I would have accepted the findings and shut up. As it is, I have felt it necessary to go on reading as much as I can on both sides of the debate and to comment where I can.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by chew8 » Thu Mar 29, 2018 9:53 am

More thoughts....

The fact that neither Glazzard nor Krashen mentioned the 2018 Torgerson et al. tertiary review made me wonder if any contributor other than Clark mentioned it. I found that only Jeff McQuillan did, but rather in passing, as his main focus is the 2016 Machin et al. study. I commented on that study soon after it appeared – see

https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... hin#p50404

https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... hin#p50412

https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... hin#p50422

and then again very recently:

https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... f=1&t=6411

The following extract from the study suggests that Machin et al. thought they were investigating first a pilot and then a larger-scale implementation of Clackmannanshire-style synthetic phonics (s.p.):

'Up to 2006, the English literacy strategy recommended analytic phonics* as one of four ‘searchlights’ for learning to read in the National Literacy Strategy (in place since 1998) – the others were knowledge of context, grammatical knowledge, word recognition and graphic knowledge. However, a review of this approach was prompted by a study in a small area of Scotland (Clackmannanshire), which claimed very strong effects for children taught to read using synthetic phonics (Johnston and Watson, 2005)...... At the same time as the review was taking place (before it was published), there was a pilot in 172 schools and nurseries that was principally to give intensive training to teachers on the use of synthetic phonics in early years. After the Rose report, training was rolled out to different Local Authorities (LA).' (pp. 6-7)

Anyone who understands Clackmannanshire-style s.p. would know that it is very different from the approach of the Early Reading Development Pilot and the subsequent Communication, Language and Literacy Development programme. As I see it, therefore, Machin et al. were not actually investigating what they thought they were investigating, and the results they report are not those of Clackmannanshire-style s.p. as they (and others including McQuillan) have thought.

I think there are at least two other problems with McQuillan’s analysis:

1. He calls the groups which Machin et al. compared ‘the phonics groups and the non-phonics groups’, but there were no non-phonics groups – all experimental groups had received their early teaching during the time of the National Literacy Strategy which, as the extract quoted above correctly states, had phonics as one of its ‘searchlights’. Teachers did claim to be teaching phonics, but many interpreted the 'searchlights' as meaning that non-phonic strategies (including picture cues and context cues) were as useful as phonic decoding for the identification of unfamiliar printed words, and the ERDP and CLLD did little to counteract that, as far as I can see.

2. He states that ‘we have no way of knowing how instruction affected children’s comprehension scores versus their performance on decoding tasks, since these are combined into a single measure’. In fact, however, some tables in the Machin et al. article give Key Stage 2 information for ‘Reading’, ‘English’ and ‘Maths’, and the KS2 reading test is without doubt a comprehension test.

*Many of us would agree that the phonics in the NLS was more analytic than synthetic, but Prof. Greg Brooks had said in 2003 that it was synthetic (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/do ... 1&type=pdf) and as a result the government said, in its published response to the 2005 Education and Skills Committee report, that the 2004 government ‘Playing with Sounds’ programme had ‘all the key elements of a synthetic phonics programme’ and would be the basis of the 2005-6 pilot. I have a hard copy of this but haven’t been able to find it on line so can’t give a link.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M. Clark)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 29, 2018 7:58 pm

Thanks, Jenny, for raising these further questions about the various studies and references to them. The Devil is in the Detail and it is looking likely that some phonics detractors are not careful, or knowledgeable, enough when it comes to understanding the detail.

I attended the DfES 2003 phonics seminar when Prof Greg Brooks defended the national literacy 'searchlights' strategies.

Whilst he was busy suggesting that the NLS did promote systematic synthetic phonics in 'Sue Lloyd's sense', Sue Lloyd (co-author of Jolly Phonics and long-standing committee member of the Reading Reform Foundation) had written a paper for the phonics seminar describing why the NLS was NOT synthetic phonics.

They would not distribute Sue's papers when they distributed other papers for the event. I wrote about this here:

http://rrf.org.uk/pdf/nl/51.pdf
Professor Greg Brooks claims on behalf of the DfES that the National Literacy Strategy is “... a synthetic phonics programme in Sue Lloyd’s sense” but Sue Lloyd and the RRF do not agree!

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